Kirsty Williams and Leanne Wood announcing their budget deal

Budgeting for trouble

The Welsh Government will get its spending plans passed with the help of opposition parties whose criticism is increasing

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Assembly pays tribute to Nelson Mandela

Senedd flags at half mast for Nelson Mandela
Senedd flags at half mast for Nelson Mandela Credit: ITV News, Adrian Masters

Assembly Members will observe a minute's silence in the Senedd and be given time to pay tributes to Nelson Mandela. The Assembly's plenary session will begin earlier than usual in order to accomodate the tribute session. MPs paid their tributes in the Commons on Monday.

Flags outside the Senedd will again be flown at half mast and a book of condolence has also been opened for AMs and members of the public to record their own tributes.

Nelson Mandela Book of Condolence, Senedd
Nelson Mandela Book of Condolence, Senedd Credit: National Assembly for Wales

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Senedd pays tribute to Nelson Mandela

A minute's silence will be observed in the National Assembly and AMs will be able to pay tributes to Nelson Mandela when they meet again on Tuesday.

A book of condolence has also been opened in the Senedd.

Nelson Mandela Book of Condolence, Senedd
A Nelson Mandela Book of Condolence has been opened at the Senedd Credit: National Assembly for Wales

Flags have been lowered to half-mast outside the Senedd today and will be lowered again on the day of Nelson Mandela's funeral - Sunday 15th December.

Flags at half-mast, Senedd
Flags fly at at half-mast outside the Senedd Credit: ITV News / Adrian Masters

NUS concerns about part-time students

Representatives of the National Union of Students in Wales are also giving evidence to the Assembly's Finance Committee. Amongst the points made in their written submissions are:

  • NUS Wales believes universities in Wales face greater uncertainty as a result of the changes
  • There's also concern about the knock-on effect on further education
  • Part-time learners are being put off because they weren't taken into account in the current tuition fees policies and as a result are a lower priority for universities
  • A third of students had considered leaving their course because of financial worries
  • Restricting tuition fee help to Welsh students who study in Wales will create a two-tiered system and limit opportunities for Welsh students.

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Universities set out funding warnings

University chiefs and representatives of the organisation which shares out funding to Welsh Universities are giving evidence to the Assembly's Finance Committee. They're setting out the impact of funding cuts and changes.

In its earlier evidence, the organisation representing higher education institutions, Higher Education Wales, says universities face an 'uncertain' future as a result of the changes. And it warns that they pose a risk to 'higher-cost' courses like medicine and engineering. HEW says:

  • Changes to the way universities are funded 'poses risks' to provision of 'higher-cost' subjects like medicine and engineering, Welsh medium provision and ensuring more students from disadvantaged backgrounds attend university.
  • Evidence from Wales and England shows that higher tuition fees of up to £9000 aren't putting off students from lower-income backgrounds 'with or without fee grant payments' like the Welsh subsidy
  • Universities can't take any further funding cuts 'without serious consequences' for their activities.

It follows a report last week into the costs of the tuition fees policy and the launch of a Welsh Government review into the funding of Higher Education.

Welsh Universities struggling to attract students says Vice Chancellor

The Vice Chancellor of Bangor University has told Assembly Members that universities in Wales are struggling to attract students from the rest of the UK and overseas.

John Hughes told the Finance Committee that institutions here 'are not in a position to invest' in the sort of facilities students who are now paying their own fees expect.

He said that's 'limited' the ability of Welsh universities to recruit students, something which they're 'already seeing in the figures.' The Finance Committee is looking into the impact of the Welsh Government's decision to subsidise the bulk of students' tuition fees.

Call for government action over student funding

student
There are calls for the Welsh government to stop university funding going to English Universities Credit: PA

University bosses in Wales say the Welsh government should stop the flow of funding going to universities in England. Currently, £50m is being spent on supporting Welsh students over the border. The Welsh government says its tuititon fees policy is sustainable.

Cross-party criticism of Minister and Department

A Welsh Government department has been criticised by a cross-party group of Assembly Members for 'flawed' financial management and planning. A letter sent from the Environment and Sustainability Committee lists a series of concerns and criticisms of the Department and its Minister, Alun Davies.

The letter from the committee's chair, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, has been sent to the Assembly's Finance Committee and follows a recent evidence session with the Minister. It criticises both the evidence and says that led to wider worries:

When the Minister gave evidence to the Committee it was felt that he did not give sufficient information or adequate clarity on a range of issues. On occasion, the responses we received were in direct contradiction to the information provided in the written papers. This is indicative of the concerns we have about the general financial management and planning of this Department.

The committee's scrutiny was, says the letter, 'hampered by the lateness of the budget paper' leaving members less than 48 hours to prepare. It also highlights 'a number of basic errors...including references to the True Taste Awards which were disbanded earlier this year.'

These concerns all suggest to us that the financial management and planning within Natural Resources and Food is currently flawed, and that it needs to improve as a matter of priority.

– Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Chair of the Environment and Sustainability committee
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